José G. Carrasco Updates on Teaching in Miami

Jose taking a selfie in his car.José G. Carrasco is a cool teacher. He is the one that all the students in the school look up to. José is friendly with his students, but they respect him because he exudes authority. He wants to inspire disadvantaged youth to transform their lives by providing them with a good education.

Are you teaching in Miami at the same school we last spoke to you about?

Yes, I am. On top of that, I teach adults ESOL three nights a week. This is a program where they learn trades and prepare for citizen tests. Those extra 10 hours of work are one way of keeping me out of trouble, I suppose. I always do private lessons here and there. This is to help kids who have a problem with math and science.

Following a divorce, you changed jobs to be closer to your two daughters. Do you still live near them?

My eldest daughter is no longer living in Miami. She is actually residing in my old Brooklyn apartment. Keeping her company there is a creature that used to be a pet of mine, Beyoncé the snake. Her younger sister, who just turned 22, still lives close by. She is in her final year of nursing school.

What do Florida schools need to do to narrow the gap with those in New York?

They need to be stricter. Florida schools need to fail their students who are not progressing. By the time of fifth grade, there should be progression. If there isn’t, it’s because they didn’t fully understand what was covered in the fourth grade. Sometimes, there are fifth graders making third-grade mistakes and that shouldn’t be happening. In third grade, you need to show you can add and subtract. If you can’t, you need to repeat the year until you can. Without this noteable progression, then students aren’t prepared for middle school. This is the biggest concern I have about teaching in Miami.

Jose posing with a student.

What advice would you give to prospective teachers?

Follow your heart. Learn your craft. You will find happiness. With these kids, from a low economic stratum, you have to be a teacher, a parent, and a psychologist. You have to do a lot of things for them to support their growth. It’s tough, but it’s a calling. Make sure you have empathy and put yourself in the same place as the kid. Be a facilitator. Believe in inclusion. Set the standard high. I’m the head guy in my school, and I tell my students that the limit is in their heads. They’ve got the same physiogenic tools as everybody else. They got 3s and 4s and kept their levels. We float together or sink together. It’s a family. I even go watch their games.

How do you get your students to memorize mathematical concepts?

You have to be inventive. What’s three times three? Use your fingers to show the students. Not everybody has the same launchpad. Some of them are subterranean. Some you can’t slow down. Don’t dumb it down. Make the classroom a level playing field.

I think when it comes to learning, you have to rationalize your teaching methods. I meet the requirements and want to make sure my kids use rationale. Why do you do this? You have to ask them a lot of questions. Teachers need to be inquisitive with their students.

What do you like to do away from school?

Travel. I went to Angola, a country in central Africa. While there, I was hanging out with my former students. They showed me around, and I even made it in the newspaper. They speak Portuguese which was handy for a Brazilian like me. I was chilling and may have caused some damage. I had a good time.

Previously, I kept pets, such as guinea pigs and snakes. My last guinea pig, Jiyma, I gave to one of my students. Her grandmother had cancer. She lived with her grandma, and looking after the guinea pig became something they did together. 

How painful was it for you to watch this year’s Copa América final? (Argentina beat José’s Brazil 1-0 in Rio’s Maracaña stadium)?

You can’t win them all. Kudos to Messi, though. It’s about time he won something on the international stage. We celebrated with gold medals at the Olympics. Dani Alves was immense in Tokyo.

It has been a while since we caught up with José. It was so reassuring to hear his warm, playful voice again. We could sense the same old, irrepressible José on the end of the phone. You can’t keep a good man down. He’s a credit to the teaching profession. We’re excited to see how teaching in Miami has gone for him.

by Dreams Abroad

What Does It Mean to Be a Good Teacher?

Sarah Perkins Guebert Winning WednesdayAs a child, I always thought that my teachers were magical beings that somehow had lesson plans already prepared and never did any work outside of the classroom except to grade assignments; and that, at least in my mind, never took long. They had the summers off work and could call a substitute teacher whenever they needed one. I was completely wrong in my assumptions, of course, but my true appreciation for teachers — especially good teachers — did not come until I had graduated from college and began working with them.  

What Makes a Good Teacher?

After studying education and observing my own teachers and coworkers, I’ve decided that a good teacher is an obsessed fanatic with what they do; a parent, a tyrant, and a slave.  First and foremost, the teacher has to enjoy their job. They have to be passionate about the subject they teach, in addition to being passionate about teaching itself. They watch their class with a careful eye and foster a positive learning environment. But, the moment the students cease to give their attention, the teacher must call them back to the material with a firm hand and keep them focused throughout the course of the lesson. 

Furthermore, a teacher must be completely and utterly devoted to their work. They must work tirelessly to create new lessons, to better old ones, to grade student work, and to improve themselves as a teacher. In my own experience, I’ve spent sleepless nights perfecting an activity for class or grading exams, encouraged my students to challenge themselves, and had my temper tested on several occasions when students were particularly problematic. It’s chaos, maybe even Hell, but I love it. Am I crazy?  Perhaps, but I’d prefer to say that I’ve caught the “teaching bug.”

Students' feet lined up in a line. What makes a good teacher?

Always Growing

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a great teacher, or even a good teacher. Even with seven years of experience, I’ve discovered that I have a lot to improve in every way imaginable. Despite that, I would venture to say that I have the potential to be a good teacher. Being a good teacher, however, requires a lot of hard work and willpower.  Nevertheless, I am collecting all the tools that I’ll need to become one. So, what have I learned over the course of my career other than the exact ratio of milk to coffee to get me through a long night of grading essays?  

Primarily, I have discovered that language teaching is difficult, because learning a language is an environment in which mistakes are normal and even encouraged. Learning another language is about more than just the language itself, but also a culture, mannerisms, history, and mindset that differ from our own. 

Students working on a craft project

Students have been taught that they should be ashamed of and try to avoid errors or failures while learning, and this instills in them a deep-set fear of attempting to use knowledge that they do not have an absolute mastery of.  As a result, they develop vergüenza, a fear/shame of using the language. I have noticed this in my students, as they are very hesitant to make use of linguistic structures they do not fully understand or control. For this reason, I think that it is essential to develop an open, friendly environment in the classroom that fosters a growth mindset.  

Hidden Capabilities

Many of my students walked into the classroom with the belief that they simply weren’t good at learning languages, or that they simply didn’t have the capacity to learn a language. Moreover, many of them walked in assuming that they wouldn’t enjoy English as a subject. However, many have commented over the years that they were surprised to succeed or enjoy the class. Even when they didn’t correctly utilize the linguistic structures we learned, they were still enthusiastic about activities and quickly discovered that complete mastery of those structures was neither expected nor realistic. In this way, the students were learning and did not see their mistakes as failures. It is my belief that this is one of the most important elements to a successful language classroom.    

Throughout the course of my career, I have been privileged to observe and work with some of my peers in order to better myself and my classroom. After watching and working together with them, I have been able to take away elements of their teaching styles and activities that I thought were effective, and take note of the elements that weren’t. This has also helped me to reflect on my own teaching style and to better myself. 

In doing so, I have realized something that I consider essential: Alone, I can become a successful teacher. I can be an effective teacher. What I cannot be alone is an outstanding teacher. After working with my peers and sharing and developing ideas, I have seen how strong we can be together, and how much more dynamic and complete our activities are as a result of collaboration. 

Finding Balance

Of course, not every element of a language classroom will be perfect. This is especially true in my case.  Sometimes I become too ambitious and attempt to teach concepts that the students are not ready to learn yet. Moreover,  I sometimes find it difficult to avoid focusing on the grammatical features of the language. Methodically learning grammar is the way I was taught languages in school, and it is difficult to break free from the examples shown to me as a learner. 

A good teacher must find balance

I find it quite challenging to avoid relying on what I have learned from my past teachers. I’ve made it my goal to develop a classroom that does not necessarily focus on explicit grammar, but rather challenges the students to think critically in the language. Of course, it seems as though there’s never enough time to develop outstanding activities that foster this kind of thinking. This brings back the point I mentioned earlier: collaboration is key.  When working together, I believe that teachers are capable of accomplishing the impossible.

A Long Path Ahead

All of this said, where does that put me as a teacher? Where do I see myself in the future?  I’ve certainly changed a lot of my beliefs and perspectives throughout the seven years that I have been professionally teaching. During my first year on the job, I was nervous to be in charge of a class of students. I didn’t want to do them a disservice, or be the sole person responsible for their language education. Now, however, I am aware of my weaknesses and continuously work towards improving them. 

I intend to continue working with my peers in order to better myself and to develop a classroom that helps the students to succeed and challenges them to think critically in a foreign language. I intend for them to make mistakes, and a lot of them. However, I don’t want them to see those mistakes as failures. Most importantly, I want my students to walk out of my class at the end of the semester and, even if they dislike English, say “I really enjoyed that class.”

by Sarah Perkins Guebert

Teaching During a Pandemic: A Teacher Abroad

By Amanda WhittenSelfie of Amanda Whitten while abroad teaching during a pandemic.

Catch up on Amanda’s first interview before joining her for the second part of her three-part interview!

This has been one of the weirdest years ever for me, not just for teaching, but in general. I’m sure that the same could be said for everyone else, as well. It’s been transformative in a number of ways, which I’ll get to in a moment. This year has affected my relationships with my students, my co-workers, and even myself. One thing is for sure: the world is changing and we must adapt to it. Read on to find out how I adapted to teaching during a pandemic!

What is a typical day at your school like? 

Pre-coronavirus, I typically arrived 20-30 minutes before class because of the public transportation schedule. As soon as I arrived, I’d head to the English department room, my safe haven, and hideout. Then, I’d check to make sure that I had all my ducks in a row and that I knew what I was supposed to be doing for each of my classes. I’d also make any last-minute necessary lesson plans or preparations and basically mentally prepare myself to go into performance mode. If I had any extra time, I’d go downstairs to the cafeteria to have a coffee and chat with any of the teachers already there.

This year, classes ranged from about 9:25am to 2:00pm, which is a pretty easy schedule, I’d say. Some days, I’d have a planning period, and other days I’d have a constant stream of classes apart from one break from 11:10am to 11:40am.

Afterwards, I’d rush home, eat very quickly, and then rush back into the world to go to my private lessons, academy classes, or whatever else I had going on. Of course, I had to adjust to teaching during a pandemic, so that all changed. I spent more time doing hobbies such as painting, and am really proud of how much I’ve grown as an artist so far! 

Teaching During a Pandemic

When the coronavirus pandemic initially began, I’d wake up an hour early, eat breakfast, shower, prepare my headset, laptop, and generally wait attentively to see if any students needed any help or wanted to talk in general. Other than that, I just uploaded their various activities and scheduled them to appear during class time. Kahoot and Educaplay were invaluable online resources for making quizzes about literally anything that the students could complete. 

After a while, other than the occasional video call, I started waking up two minutes before class because I had discovered, much to my lazy side’s delight, that Google classroom could be downloaded on cell phones. Then I could lazily browse and be “present” in class while laying in bed. A difficult and tiresome job, really.  

How many people do you work with? How many classes do you teach?

I interact frequently with a nucleus of about four to five teachers, but usually there are many more who actually teach at the school. At IES Pablo Neruda, I had sixteen classes and therefore, had sixteen working hours. 

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

I considered myself very lucky at what was, until June 30th, my current school. With a good rapport with all of the teachers I worked with, I developed what I would consider actual friendships with at least three of them. I really admire all of the teachers I personally worked with and basically feel that I won the lottery. All I wanted was to feel respected, appreciated, and accepted here in Spain. They did an amazing job of doing that for me. It was and is mutual. Even while teaching during a pandemic, I can honestly say these were the best coworkers I’ve had so far in Spain.

Amanda Whitten and Leganes while Amanda was abroad teaching during a pandemic

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

I would say that I had a few favorite groups that I really enjoyed working with. A bachillerato group I worked with always reacted enthusiastically to my activities whether an introduction to country music (seeing these kids goofily sing Garth Brooks literally made my year) or getting into heated debates, I had so much fun. I also really enjoyed teaching my 1st eso kids, which are pretty much 6th graders. They are still so full of excitement for learning. They loved telling me about their favorite foods and what they did on the weekends. How could I not adore them? 

I have a few favorite students scattered here and there: naughty ones who could make me laugh as well as academic and friendly ones who enjoyed interacting with me. All of these students made my days more enjoyable. While I can’t say that I had a specific favorite part of each day, I can say that I had certain highlights during the week. It makes leaving this part of my life behind all the more bittersweet.

How is the material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?

It really depends on whichever teacher is in charge. For example, one teacher may prefer to heavily rely on going through the book via a program on the computer. This makes it easy to correct and grade exercises as a group. Others focus on using their book as a guideline, choosing to focus more on activities and conversation. The former may be easier, but it is so much more boring for both me and the students. The latter can be more challenging, but it is so much more fun and engaging, provided the students are interested. 

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

Some classes required no preparation whatsoever. One teacher would give me the page numbers and exercises to correct via the computer program, and that was it. Usually, I was told that I had the freedom to come up with extra activities, but since these instructions were usually given right before class or the day before, I rarely ever knew what we were going to be going over. And for those classes, the activities were meant to “complement” the lesson, not detract. 

For other classes, I would be given a topic to make a presentation on or perhaps a topic to practice conversation around. These practice conversations would be easy enough to research a bit, and perhaps make a PowerPoint if necessary. 

Amanda Whitten pointing at a frog while abroad in Madrid teaching during a pandemic

Still, others would have me go over certain pages in the book, but without an answer key. I usually answered the questions myself before class so that I didn’t embarrass myself in front of the kids, teens, or even literal adults. 

Fortunately for me, I never had to worry about teaching actual grammar at this school, thank goodness. The teachers left the listening and conversation practice up to me, for the most part. And if there’s anything that I apparently have a gift for, it is a gift for gab. 

Do you work at a bilingual school? Is English being taught as a subject or throughout all classes?

I have worked at a bilingual school in the past, but I much preferred working at a traditional school. The reason being is that it’s difficult to teach technical concepts such as art theory or, god forbid, science and math, to even the most academically advanced students. Yes, I much prefer the straightforwardness of teaching ESL English in English classes rather than English through a different subject. I can’t imagine the challenges of teaching during a pandemic at a bilingual school. 

What goals or standards are classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?

If the students managed to speak up at all, they would get a point in their favor in the grade book. This would all add up at the end of the year, and it could hurt or help their grade. It was really all about mere participation, with the exception of when students gave rubric graded speeches. I’m sure that the teachers themselves had more extensive ways of measuring progress. However, in my classes, it was all about showing up and speaking up, no matter how quietly or hesitantly. Honestly, it was good enough for me because, concerning foreign languages, it’s not about the destination, but the journey. And that journey is rocky and full of humiliating errors. So if they even dare to take a step, I applaud them. 

Amanda's work station while teaching during a pandemic.
My work station I set up to teach during the pandemic.

 

Looking back at our first interview, what have you learned most about yourself in the classroom this year?

My answer applies not just to our first interview, but also all the way to the beginning of my illustrious teaching career. I have learned to relax, breathe when rattled, not be a hammer, and be a high five. I have learned that having a good time, even if just playing an invigorating game, can be worth fifteen grammar lessons. If a student is laughing and smiling, then they are learning. 

Amanda will share her plans for next year in a follow-up interview. We look forward to hearing what she has to say and where her future will take her, especially considering her success in teaching during a pandemic. Be on the lookout for her third interview.

Quarantined and Teaching from Home

by Stephanie Best

Typically, those closest to me would describe me as adventurous, spontaneous, adaptable, and tenacious. However, the past few years (and particularly the past few months in quarantine) have deeply humbled me to realize my limits. I have somehow found myself going from fearlessly backpacking foreign countries solo to ordering groceries online because I am hesitant to even go to the grocery store. The sudden change has been deeply unsettling. 

Suddenly, I have gone from constantly being surrounded by students and friends, to teaching online and being quarantined alone. I have never been one to spend much time at home. I would much rather go to the gym or study from a coffee shop than work from home. However, I have had to figure out how to make things work from home. Even as things start to slowly open up, I am trying to only be in physical proximity with the few people that I have seen since the lockdown began. Still, I have found it important to keep connections. 

teaching from home

Finding Sanity Mid-Quarantine

Here are a few of the things that have helped me keep relatively sane during this unprecedented time: 

  1. Video chat: As often as possible, I have tried to be in contact with friends and family via Facetime or other video chat sources. Although maintaining physical distancing has been difficult, this makes it a little easier to feel a sense of connectedness. 
  2. Workout from home: I used to go to the gym most days, but now I have been working out from home. Although it’s much harder to find a routine that works, I have found that having an app or video to follow has been helpful in working out more efficiently than if I just worked out without guidance.
  3. Find a good book or show to watch: I have never been one for TV, but being in quarantine, it has been nice to find something to occupy my mind when things get too quiet. I’ve also enjoyed catching up on reading.
  4. Routine: I’m not best at this, but it’s definitely helpful. Waking up early and making a to-do list has certainly made my days more bearable. 

As soon as quarantine is over, I will be the first to be planning my next adventure. However, until then, I am trying to make the most out of a difficult situation. Perhaps when the dust settles, we will have a newfound appreciation for things that were once taken for granted. 

Teaching from Home

For many students, teachers, and parents, the move to online instruction has been a challenge. Although I have been using instructional technology in my practice from the beginning of my teaching career, the sudden change has been difficult for students and teachers alike. Even before the outbreak, I was already using Blackboard to supplement in-person instruction. However, I had to quickly adapt my courses to be entirely online. It looks as though instruction will continue this way through at least the summer semester and potentially into the fall. Here’s some advice for teachers, students, and parents alike during this time:

Teachers:

  1. Be Empathetic: Regardless of what age/subject you are teaching from home, all of our students are going through rough times. Perhaps your students have new roles and responsibilities or are otherwise struggling. They may not have access to proper technology or wi-fi. They may be experiencing financial struggles, or health issues. Accept late work, and ask your students how they’re doing — how they’re really doing. Be flexible in getting them through the semester.
  2. Collaborate: My experience has been that teachers are good at sharing and working together. Share with your colleagues. We’re all better when we work together. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. 
  3. Be Flexible: Pencil in plans, but don’t be too attached to anything. Things are changing constantly, and adaptability and flexibility are key.

Parents (K-12):

  1. Try to create space at home dedicated to virtual learning. Students focus better if they’re not near their TV, video games, toys, bed, etc. You don’t need to have a separate room. A learning station at the kitchen table can work.
  2. Communicate with your child about their work, but don’t be too involved. This may be a hard line to draw and is an exercise in balancing needs and support. The bottom line is that it does children no favors to do things or assignments for them that they’re able to do it themselves. While it can be helpful to talk through homework, do not do it for them. 
  3. Encourage your children to complete their assignments, but don’t stress them out unnecessarily. Mental and physical health must take priority at this point. We’re all living in unprecedented and highly stressful times. 

woman and girl using ipad

Students:

  1. Make a list each day of the things that must get done. Cross them off as you complete them. It will help you to stay organized and feel a sense of accomplishment. 
  2. Communicate openly with your teachers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your teachers are learning as they’re going along much as you, and most teachers take student feedback into consideration.
  3. Pay attention to all instructions. Don’t just skip to the end to try to get through quicker. Listen to the instruction on your modules or the Zoom/Blackboard Collaborate lecture. Most likely, the answers to your questions are there.

kids learning on computers

Quarantined and Teaching from Home

It will be interesting to see how this situation changes education. Perhaps this time will allow us to hone effective use of instructional technology and continue to effectively incorporate it when we are able to return to in-person instruction. 

Using Only the Target Language in a Foreign Language Classroom

by Caroline Hazelton

caroline hazelton teaching ESOLHow did a Southern, non-Hispanic begin her bilingual journey in an English-only rural town? 

Solo español,” replied my Spanish 2 teacher who spoke to us in almost no English right from the beginning.

How have I taught nearly every grade level of Spanish/ESL ever since for seven years?

Only in the language that I am teaching… with some exceptions. I’m here to challenge you both with experience and science for using the target language (the language you are teaching) as much as possible in your classroom. And believe me, you can use it a lot more than you think you can.

Why only the target language?

Learning to listen and speak a language occurs the same way babies learn to talk. They listen to in the language constantly, with images and context to teach them meaning. Then, after hours upon hours of exposure, the babies are ready to speak. As their brain develops, they are able to form more complex phrases, sentences, and ideas as they age. Our second languages are learned in the same way. Our brains absorb grammar through repetition. they absorb meaning through context created by situations and visuals. Finally, they absorb pronunciation through constant exposure and confidence via experience. Because we “acquire” language (that is, to soak it up through the ability to speak and listen, then in our ability to write and read in it), we cannot teach language in the same way that we teach other subjects. We must mimic a caregiver teaching a child to speak.

Enter the language classroom. In the case where the teacher and students both speak the students’ first language, many teachers do not speak in the target language. They do this to get through the lesson faster, to avoid frustrated students, or to build rapport with students. Other times, they simply do not know how to teach in the target language. As a result, you see students who have textbook knowledge of the target language but who are unable to communicate in it.

Remember Phonics?

abc PhonicsWithout appropriate communication in the target language, students haven’t developed an ear for how the language sounds; they haven’t learned enough vocabulary in natural context nor have they developed the confidence to speak the target language. Additionally, students don’t have the opportunity to form an identity in the new language they are trying to learn if they aren’t being exposed to it or being forced to use it — they rely only on their original, or L1, language/identity. Finally, if they don’t see how they are able to communicate in the target language they lose motivation. They feel as if they aren’t learning it. However, a student who is forced to speak the language feels that they are actually learning.

I speak from experience. It started in my high school Spanish 2 classroom where my teacher uttered not a word in English for two hours a day, five days a week. The instructor spoke in an incredibly simple way. He would not answer anyone in English, and only in Spanish. He spoke with gestures, dramatic emotions, and cognates. 

Speaking From Experience

By the end of the semester, I (Caroline) had not only studied Spanish, but could actually speak basic Spanish. I learned more in that semester of high school Spanish alone than I did in any other community college course I took. In those courses, the instructor used a mix of Spanish and English. They missed opportunities to give their students the true ability to communicate in our second language. After moving from my small town to attend a state university to study Spanish and second language acquisition (SLA), I saw more examples both as a Spanish and SLA student of why teachers should use ONLY the target language.

I speak as a teacher. When I speak in the target language at first, I see students of all ages initially very frustrated. I ALWAYS have students who are hesitant to learn the language and resist. However, I insist upon only using the language I am teaching. I have seen their progress. I have seen students score higher on proficiency tests than their level indicated that they would. Ultimately, I have seen my resistors eventually change their ways. 

Success in the Classroom

Every semester, I have ESL (English as a Second Language) students who request to join my class because I insist on using only English. As a university instructor, students have changed or added majors and minors in the language I taught. My students have returned to me bragging about how they asked their counselors to speak to them in their target language. Some of my ESL students took jobs in English. I have taught China’s brightest professionals that they STILL have more to learn because they could only communicate in English and realized that they couldn’t as they wished. Finally, I have had a student upon student thank me at the end of every semester. 

So, How Do You Teach? 

Be your normal teacher self… in the target language. Notably, you are not going to speak like you would speak to native speakers. Aim for a much slower, simpler pace with tons of visual clues to help convey your message.

You first have to speak in the simplest way possible. For example, “We’re all set, so could you please hand in your papers?” becomes “pass the papers.” In the beginning classes, use gestures, gestures, gestures. In intermediate classes, say, “Please pass the papers — we are finished! Thanks!” I suggest sticking to a handful of common requests or words that are most repeated in the target language or in a classroom setting. 

Change Your Expectations

You’ll also have to change your expectations according to the natural stages of language development and to what level of communication each level can reasonably do in the language they are learning. You should try to have low/beginning students listen as much as possible. They should respond non-verbally until they have the confidence and the feel for the sounds of the language to speak. Even then, it will be very similar to a child learning how to speak — first with one-word phrases, then two, etc. From knowledge I’ve gathered from my graduate studies, the development of language is the same for everyone in terms of language stages and whether it’s a first or second language.

Once your students get past the low/beginning stage and into intermediate or high/beginning, they can start to communicate basic needs. The goal now is to increase their confidence in the language. Have students speak in small groups and with yourself as the teacher as much as possible. You should require that all communications with you and their classmates be in the target language with some exceptions so students can make the most of every opportunity. 

Because all teaching is about creating meaning, you need to try to provide as much context for language as possible… visuals, gestures, and culturally authentic material. Creating meaning is important because you want to be teaching at a level slightly higher than the students’ current level. This way they are challenged and can advance forward in an attainable way. 

first language puzzle

So, When Is the First Language Okay?

You never want students to lose their identity. Therefore, I have found that when students (particularly in ESL courses) are speaking about their native countries, idioms, or cultures, the use of their mother tongue is powerful. Plus, some words don’t quite translate the same.

You also have to recognize that speaking a second language requires more brainpower from students. If you want them to do some higher-order thinking that they don’t have the language skills for just yet, you might allow them to use their first language to think through the task, then use the second language once they have the activity mastered. 

Criticisms of Only Teaching in the Target Language

One criticism that gets mentioned of teaching only in the target language is that you don’t want students to miss out on important information — and I agree. For beginning students, you don’t want them to miss out on key information, so I think it’s okay to FIRST say the information in the target language. If, after multiple attempts to clarify their understanding they still don’t understand the concept, it is okay to use their first language. However, just explaining the concept in the first language immediately takes away the opportunity for growth.

I have also seen the usefulness of translation, despite what current language teaching methods (the communicative method) say. When I’m teaching grammar, second-language students often literally translate the grammatical rules of their first language into their second. It can be helpful to compare the differences. I also run into the issue when teaching vocabulary that while it’s better to reply with a synonym or image to stay in the target language, sometimes there is no image or similar word that students know, so a translation can be handy. 

Knowing these situations, my rule with my low/intermediate students is “Only English… except during grammar activities, cultural celebrations, group projects, or if you ask special permission.” 

A Conclusion About Using Only the Target Language in a Foreign Language Classroom

By purposely speaking only in the target language to students, we make language an acquired ability instead of a memorized subject. With careful exceptions, we can also respond to our students in a sensitive way. 

 

Day-To-Day Life Teaching at a Thai School

by Leesa Truesdell

Diego AmbrosioDiego Ambrosio and I had the chance to catch up for his second interview Finding the Perfect International Job. He had participated in a few Thai regional tournaments since we last spoke. He went to Bangkok, Thailand to judge a spelling bee competition and a group of his students participated in a music competition in Pang Na. His group won a gold and silver medal in the competition! He wrapped up his school year and is getting ready for exams. Diego has learned so much about what it is like teaching at a Thai school over the last year. He remembers when he first arrived and how much he has grown as a person and as a professional since that day. 

Read more about what Diego said about his day-to-day life teaching at a Thai school: 

What is a typical day at your school like? 

Each public school in Thailand generally follows the same morning routines before class starts. In my school, students must be present in the main square starting from 7:30 until about 8:10 in order to observe and respect the various routine ceremonies. These include a display of rigorous respect for the Thai National Anthem in a “Stand to Attention” position and music performed by the school band, a Buddhist prayer, and finally a list of ten “commandments” to always remember. The morning ceremony ends with the school jingle played by the music band. Each lesson lasts about 50 minutes (a period) and the school day consists of eight periods. Teachers must stay in the office until 16:30. The school entitles teachers to about one hour of lunch break. There is also a school canteen if necessary.

 

How many people do you work with? How many classes do you teach?

 We currently have nine teachers of different nationalities In the Foreign Teachers English department. There is one teacher from Poland, one from France, one from Morocco, one from Australia, three from the Philippines and one from Canada. The Canadian teacher is the coordinator of the English department. This year I received an assigned eighteen hours per week teaching eight classes for a total of five different courses. However, our contract provides for the possibility of having to cover up to 20 hours of teaching per week. In any case, we must cover the hours of the other teachers if they miss class due to illness or personal reasons.

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

I consider myself a lucky person from this point of view because I was able to immediately establish excellent friendships with my work colleagues.  I consider myself a naturally sociable and peaceful person, as well as extremely empathetic. Sometimes we organized meetings outside of school and ate together on special days of the year. For example, last December 26th, we all had lunch together on Christmas Day.

thai teachers

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

The most pleasant moment of the day is around the first afternoon hours, after lunch. I usually go for a digestive walk around the school campus. The campus has various nature trails. The school has become a lovely place because it sits inside a beautiful natural reserve of mangrove trees.

How is the material being taught to students? Do you use a specific method?

My school follows the conventional teaching method found throughout almost all Thailand English language teaching programs. The lesson plan includes four main phases that we call “warm-up,” “present,” “practice,” and “produce.” 

teacher abroad

The “warm-up” phase is generally short-lived (five to ten minutes) and includes the “call of attendances,” “introduction to the lesson,” a possible “ice-breaker” or “review of the previous lesson.” The second phase, “present,”  is the one in which the lesson is presented. Teachers explain the most important contents in this phase, through the use of projectors, audio-visual material, and obviously, the blackboard. The third phase, “practice,” consists of guided exercises to understand the contents explained, through individual or interactive exercises. Teachers must constantly monitor these activities and assist students the best they can. The final phase, “produce,”  is the final production of the learning contents learned by students. It can take place through the presentation of projects or individual works aimed at the development and improvement of oral skills and content presentation.

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

I always prepare my lessons with care. Preparing ahead helps me feel well-organized. I have everything ready well in advance so that I don’t have to run into unpleasant or unexpected events. As I explained above, I prepare my lessons through a specific template provided by the school which includes the four main processing phases. In addition, I also like to always look for new ideas and materials. Thanks to the Internet, I can always have an endless source of teaching material available. 

Do you work at a bilingual school? Does the school teach English as a subject or throughout all classes?


The English language is taught in all the classes. This means my school is ultimately a kind of bilingual school. However, there are several types of classes that have access to different levels of teaching quality. The two main programs of study for the English language are called the “regular program” and the “English program.” The regular program includes the teaching of the English language, but not through foreign native English-speaking teachers. On the other hand, the English program provides for the presence of native speakers, therefore the enrollment cost is significantly higher.

What goals or standards are classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?


Like any educational institution in the world, Thailand’s school system has parameters for the student assessment during the course of the entire school year. Teachers evaluate students at the end of each semester. My school has two semesters per year. Each student can earn a total value of 100 points. They can earn these with scores from two main units (25 points + 25 points) plus a mid-term exam for a max of 20 points and a final exam with a maximum score of 30 points. Based on the total score obtained, the student will be able to access a grade ranking that ranges from a minimum of 1.5 to a maximum of 4.

I want to clarify an important detail of the Thai school system, namely that students cannot be rejected or repeat the same school year. The school promotes each and every student, no matter what. Whenever a student earns a score lower than 50/100, the teacher becomes responsible for taking care of the student by organizing an extra lesson, project, or exam for the student. The student must complete them as proof of resolution of the low score. Even if the student fails to successfully complete this phase, he will still be promoted. This aspect makes us reflect a lot, since it shows a big flaw in the process of education and growth of the Thai child. There is a very high possibility of an unprepared student reaching the upper levels of an academic course.

Looking back at our first Teach Abroad interview, what have you learned most about yourself in the classroom this year?

There is always something new to learn with each passing year. I can still remember who I was as soon as I arrived at this school and how, day after day, I managed to improve the quality of my teaching together with improved creativity and constant participation within various school events.

Recently, for example, I learned that the morale with which you start your lessons has a decisive impact on the progression of the lesson and on the learning that follows from the students. So it is really essential to always start in the right gear and have the best intentions.

Wrap Up Working at a Thai School

Due to the recent coronavirus pandemic, the minister of Thailand mandated that schools in Thailand be shut down until May. Diego wrapped up his final week of classes by giving final exams. He had originally planned to go back to Italy in April for his break. Since Italy is a major epicenter of the coronavirus, Diego will not be able to go home and plans to remain in Thailand for now.

Stay tuned for more on Diego’s Thailand teach abroad adventure.

 

Teaching English in Madrid and Extremadura

by Tyler Black

tyler black travelerTeaching English in Spain can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. It certainly was for me. However, there are a lot of factors to consider to ensure you don’t leave Spain with a bad taste in your mouth (school type, age level, English level, etc). One important thing to keep in mind, though, is the location. I’m not talking about north versus south, east versus west, or island versus mainland. I’m referring to big city versus small town or pueblo. 

During my first year in Spain, I taught at two schools in a town called Badajoz in the autonomous community of Extremadura. After a very eye-opening year, I decided I needed a bit of change. I spent the following year teaching English at a school in Madrid. I knew there would be some differences between a town and a big city, but what I experienced superseded all expectations. Thankfully, I didn’t mind the changes too much because I consider myself a very open-minded person. Nonetheless, it’s important to know the differences in order to find something that best suits your preferences. I can’t speak for every region’s towns and villages, but I imagine they’re all relatively similar.

Number of Schools

In Badajoz, there were a good amount of schools in the town and surrounding villages, but only a handful of teachers assigned to the area. Because of this, it was very common for teachers to have multiple schools. One of my schools was a private institution in the heart of the town’s historic quarter, only a few blocks from where I lived. The other was a public primary school in a village just outside Badajoz called Gévora.

I enjoyed teaching at different schools a lot because each day I got a refreshing change of environment. On one day, I would walk through town and enjoy the old architecture with an occasional stop for coffee. On another, I would wait for one of my Spanish coworkers to pick me up and drive me to the village outside of town. It was very common for a fellow teacher to take me to those farther-out schools so I didn’t have to rely on public transportation. 

Badajoz-Extremadura-spain

Public Transportation While Teaching English in Madrid

In Madrid, things are a bit different. Although there are a lot of schools, there are also a ton of teachers assigned to the city. Chances are that your school will be very far away from where you choose to reside. But that’s okay! Madrid’s (and most of Spain’s larger cities’) public transportation is one of the best in the world. My school was located in Alcalá de Henares, about forty minutes outside the city. At first, I dreaded the thought of making that commute everyday. Fortunately, I very quickly began to enjoy waking up with the city as I took the city bus into Alcalá. Instead of rolling out of bed and groggily walking three blocks to my school in Badajoz, I could now let the commute give me a chance to physically and mentally prepare myself by the time classes started.

Curriculum and Responsibilities for Cambridge English Exams

Cambridge English examsBeing the capital of Spain, Madrid’s schools focus very heavily on preparing their students for the Cambridge English exams at the request of the government. I imagine the other major cities in the country do the same. For those who don’t know what the Cambridge Exams are, Cambridge University administers an annual test at schools so that students can earn a certificate proving a certain English level. There are six levels ranging from the lowest skill level to the most advanced: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2.

When teaching English in Madrid, you’ll be responsible for preparing your students for the exam that correlates with the age group or grade. Although the exam at the end of the year was very stressful for me as I prayed I had instructed my students well enough to pass, it was very comforting to know throughout the year what each day would look like: just get the students ready for their certifications.

My first year in Badajoz was vastly different. Although there were one or two higher end schools in town that participated in the Cambridge Exam, the large majority did not have the funds to do so. Therefore my role in day-to-day class was very variable. In the private school in Badajoz’s historic district, I was in charge of creating an activity pertaining to that week’s lesson. One example was when the class was learning about cities like London and New York City. I stood in front of the class and called on students to read a paragraph in their textbook. Afterwards, I asked them questions about what they had read in order to garner discussion. Lastly, to make things more fun, I let the students choose five vocabulary words and draw them in their notebooks. 

students in madrid

No Teaching Background, No Problem

I won’t lie, it was very stressful at first, especially since I didn’t have any teaching background or any idea how to lead a group of children. To say it was daunting is an understatement. But after a couple of months, I discovered many online resources that greatly aided me. I figured out what worked and what didn’t. Don’t let challenges like this dissuade you. You’ll learn very valuable skills along the way.

In my primary school in the village of Gévora, things were a tad bit simpler. The professor led the class the majority of the time, and I was only there to correct grammar and pronunciation mistakes. As you can see, each school can bring a different experience in smaller towns since they don’t have the government breathing down their necks. They have more freedom with directing your role as an auxiliar in the classroom. Depending on your past experiences or preferences, the challenge of a small town might intrigue you rather than teaching English in Madrid where things are more structured and concrete.

teaching in Madrid

Expectations and Relationships of Teaching English in Madrid

Your relationship with the staff and their expectations of you will be a complete 180 between larger cities like Madrid and smaller towns. In Badajoz and Gévora, I found the staff to be very laid-back. Obviously I was expected to arrive on time and perform the tasks that I was assigned. However, if I was ever feeling under the weather, I could shoot a text to one of the teachers letting them know I wouldn’t be in, and that was that. Filming your students on your phone and taking selfies with them was not uncommon, either. It made things more personable. 

In Madrid, if I called off, I was expected to bring a valid doctor’s excuse the following day or risk not being paid. Luckily, I’m not one to get sick very often, but it would have been nice to take a mental health day now and then. At this particular school, cell phone use was a big no-no. No videos or pictures of the students were allowed unless under special circumstances.

Towns and Villages Throughout Spain

In towns and villages throughout Spain, there’s a good chance that you’ll be the only English assistant at your school. I found the teachers to be very accommodating and willing to integrate me with the rest of the staff. I was invited to school events, holiday dinners, and even the occasional night out for drinks. One teacher even took me into Portugal for the day with her husband. It was great for me because I really wanted to improve my Spanish and be integrated into the Spanish lifestyle. I still keep in touch with a couple of my fellow teachers from Badajoz to this day.

teachers abroad

On the other hand, when teaching English in Madrid, you’ll most likely work with a few other English assistants. At my school, we had five assistants. Because of this, we tended to congregate near each other in the breakroom instead of interacting with the other teachers. Furthermore, because we were in a big city, many of the other teachers all lived in different areas of the community. Depending on the school, there may not be any holiday dinners, nights out, or friendly excursions with the Spanish teachers. Although it was relieving to vent in English to the other assistants about my day, I truly did miss the authentic Spanish relationships I made in Badajoz.

Private Classes

Chairs-Class-Classroom-Seminar-School

Private classes, or “clases particulares,” are a very common way to earn a little extra cash on the side. But like everything else I’ve mentioned, you’ll notice some stark differences between large cities and small towns. In towns like Badajoz, you’ll find that most families will likely pay you €10 for an hour of class. That doesn’t seem like much (and it really isn’t), but the thing to remember is that word travels fast. You may only have one class a week, but eventually that family will tell their friends about you. And that next family will tell their friends. And the cycle will continue. At one point I had about nine private classes a week. Just be careful. Money is great, but don’t burn yourself out. Free time is important. After all, you’re in a foreign country. Take advantage of that.

When you offer private English classes in Madrid, your starting rate will be around €20 an hour. I can already feel your eyes getting wide. As they should! You can make a pretty penny if you plan your classes right. Here’s the downside though: classes are hard to come by in the big cities. I had to rely on websites like tusclasesparticulares.com and milanuncios.com to get in touch with families. Word of mouth did not exist. Furthermore, your travel time between classes will be greater than in a small town. It’s difficult to accept many offers if they don’t fit both parties’ schedules. However, like I said earlier, if you’re able to strategically plan your schedule, you can walk away each week with a nice supplemental income on top of the government stipend you receive.

Teaching English in Madrid is Worth It

Feliz navidadNo matter which type of location you choose, there’s going to be pros and cons. In order to make the best of your experience teaching English in Spain, you must align your preferences with those pros and cons. There’s a lot more that goes into it than just your monthly salary (for those that are curious, teaching English in Madrid pays €1,000/month and everywhere else pays €600). This will be a once in a lifetime opportunity for you. Make sure you do your due diligence. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing experience in a small town and in a large city. However, I do know people who didn’t enjoy their time in Spain because they were unaware of what each location offered. Be smart and resourceful, and you’ll walk away with a life-changing and unforgettable adventure.

These experiences are based on the schools and locations I taught at. There are always going to be different situations anywhere you go. There could be small towns where only English teachers congregate in the breakroom, and there might be schools in Madrid where Spanish teachers integrate you into the Spanish lifestyle. Perhaps there may be a school in a small town with multiple English assistants, and only a couple in Madrid. Just know that whatever situation you find yourself in, it will be well worth it!

 

 

 

Teaching Abroad at a Bilingual School in Madrid, Spain

by Ellen Hietsch

Alex Warhall remains a ubiquitous presence during our second year teaching at a bilingual school in Madrid: my flatmates and I have discussed clearing our mini dining room so that he can sleep there, so he can constantly bring us joy with his ukulele freestyling and delicious dinners. It’s no surprise that such creativity has helped him shine as an auxiliar in his return to the primary school where he worked last year. Read all about his first teaching abroad interview here.

Amongst our bops between barrios and open mic night debuts over the past few months, Alex and I have rarely talked about work in depth – unless it was for him to beam with pride about a video project he’d developed and directed. Our conversations are chaotic curiosities, jumping from considering the profound to a stream of Documentary Now references in a matter of minutes. We recently found the chance to catch up on the depths of Year Two at his Getafe Primary School. This is the conversation that followed:

What is a typical day at your school like?

“My schedule is different every day. While I can generally forecast the basic outline for my week, it’s challenging to predict my daily schedule. Surely, I know which classes I will be going to, but what I will be doing in those classes varies. My most consistent tasks during the day are guiding speaking exercises, proctoring oral exams, correcting students’ writings, or playing the role of “examiner” in the mock PET exams. If I had to pinpoint a typical daily occurrence at my school, I would say that during morning break and lunchtime I learn a new Spanish phrase from my coworkers (I would share some of these phrases, but they tend to be inappropriate).

These consistencies aside, there are often more surprises in my day. Some days I arrive at school and find out that I’m going on an excursion. Other days, I’m asked to help students practice their dance routine for Carnival. For the whole month of November, I was directing, filming, and editing introduction videos that we later shared with a fellow school in Madrid. These surprises are what make my days so exciting and my school so fun.”

Bilingual School in Madrid Spain classroom group students

How many people do you work with (auxiliaries included)? How many classes do you teach?

“When I began the school year in October, there were only two auxiliaries—including myself (both American). Because our bilingual coordinator wanted to equally distribute the native English in each of the six grades, we didn’t have overlapping classes during this time. Then, after the New Year, our school gained two additional auxiliaries (both Australian). With these additions, my schedule was revised. Now, I have the pleasure of working with all three of the auxiliares at my school. My revised schedule also has me working with three different classroom teachers: the third, fifth, and sixth-grade teachers. When I’m working with these teachers, I rarely ever run the classroom. Instead, I conduct speaking activities with small groups that reinforce the teacher’s lesson plan or prepare the students for the upcoming Cambridge English exam.”

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

“Definitely! This is my second year teaching at my school. Last year, I worked with such kind and sociable people. Unfortunately, they didn’t have permanent positions and, as a result, didn’t end up at the same school. So when I thought about the upcoming school year and the new teachers joining us, I wondered if I would bond with them the same way that I did with those from last year. I soon discovered that the new teachers were also friendly and easy to work with. I’m really grateful for my coworkers and appreciative of the culture at our school, which fosters friendships among coworkers. Some of my best nights out in Madrid have been with my coworkers—from going out dancing to eating churros at St. Gines while waiting for the first Metro to arrive at 6:30 AM.”

Are you forming bonds with students? Does the school foster the creation and maintenance of these relationships inside and outside the classroom?

“Yes, absolutely. I would say my school fosters the maintenance of these relationships inside and outside of the classroom. I spend a lot of my time working with small groups. During these sessions, I have the opportunity to learn more about my students’ interests. It probably goes without saying, but many of my students love Real Madrid fútbol, which is also my favorite soccer team. Often times, we will chat about the previous night’s match, reliving the highlight-worthy goals or complaining about the devastating blunders.

Abroad in Spain

A few of my students share my affinity for the Marvel Comic Book movies. Whenever we’ve seen the latest film, we’ll have informal discussions about it. One of my students enjoys reenacting his favorite scenes. The most impressive part of that is that he does it in English! I also love playing basketball. Whenever the weather is nice and I’m wearing the right gear, I’ll join the students during playground time for a game—it’s the only time I’m the tallest person on the court (and not by much). I’ll sometimes pause the game to teach basketball fundamentals—some students like this and others prefer that I don’t interrupt the game. Either way, we have fun.

Outside of the classroom, I have been invited to students’ gymnastics competitions and fútbol matches, some of which I have attended. I’m very grateful for these moments because I think it improves the teacher-student relationship inside the classroom. I get to see how they behave in a setting where maybe they’re more focused, doing something they’re passionate about. On top of this, they get to see me in a more casual setting and understand that I care about their lives outside of the classroom.”

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

“As I’ve mentioned before, my class schedule is different each day so I don’t actually have a favorite part of each day, but I do have a favorite part of the week! Every Wednesday and Thursday, I do a language exchange with Mario, the secretary at my school. He is very motivated to speak English fluently and his energy is contagious. The topics of discussion are plentiful and varied. I always walk away from these intercambios having laughed a bunch and learned something new. When my weekend ends that fateful Monday evening, I genuinely look forward to these intercambio sessions. Indeed, these twice-weekly intercambios have drastically improved my Spanish. Thus, they have also improved the quality of my time in school and in Madrid as a whole. I’ve gotten to know my coworker’s way better as a result and I’ve been able to meet more people in Madrid.”

How is the material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?

Alex Warhall Abroad“Every teacher has their own style and methods. I work with teachers that have remarkable classroom control and are able to give an attention-grabbing lecture whereby the students—hanging on every word—simply listen, laugh, and take notes. Other teachers who work with me are integrating technology into their lessons. They show educational videos or use interactive games on the smartboard. I also work with teachers who read directly from the textbook, which sometimes works and sometimes bores the students. I think the best teachers are able to read the energy of their students. They teach their lesson in a way that matches said energy. For example, the students typically have a lot of residual energy left from playground time and typically need some time to decompress. One teacher that I work with will read them a short story so that they can just relax and listen.”

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

“At my school, I’m not responsible for planning lessons. Occasionally, a teacher will ask me to give a presentation, prepare a song on my ukulele, or tell a story for the class. In this case, I will take the time I feel is needed to prepare something of quality. If I haven’t been asked to prepare something, then I won’t. Not out of laziness, but because my teachers are always well-prepared. Most days, just before class starts, the teacher will tell me what they would like me to do with the students during the day and then provide me with the materials to accomplish their objective.”

Do you work at a bilingual school? What does that mean to you? What does that mean according to the community of Getafe?

“I do work at a bilingual school. To me, it means speaking English. Always. Occasionally, the students ask me to say “Hola” or “Que tal” or some other Spanish words and phrases. Nonetheless, my job is to continue speaking English with them no matter what—even if they have a low English level. The reason I do so is that if they think that I know any Spanish at all, then they may stop relying on their English skills to communicate with me. To the community of Getafe, “bilingual” means teaching every class in English, except for math and language. It also means speaking English with the students in the hallways, on the playground, and even when disciplining.”

What standards are your classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?

city valencia spain“I’m not entirely sure what standards my classroom teachers are using because it’s rarely a topic of discussion between us. However, the work we do with the 5th and 6th graders is aimed at preparing them for the Cambridge Preliminary English Exam (PET). We have been giving them mock exams at the school. I’ve been responsible for evaluating their performances in the four categories of the exam: reading, listening, writing, and speaking. The marks I give them are based on the standards set forth by the Cambridge University English Assessment.”

Does your school have a set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help their students succeed?

“Whether or not my bilingual school in Madrid has a written document spelling out the shared goals and expectations, I’m not certain, but I do have a strong sense that there are three general goals: build their confidence in English, prepare them for secondary school, and show them how to be well-rounded adults. We build their confidence in English by constantly immersing them in the language. To enhance their language learning, we prepare them for secondary school by giving them frequent exams and homework every night. We also teach them useful study habits that will help them manage their time and be self-reliant. Finally, we show them how to be well-rounded adults by emphasizing manners and kindness inside and outside of the classroom.”

Looking back at our first Teach Abroad interview, what have you learned most about yourself since your arrival to Spain and/or Europe both in the classroom and out of the classroom?

“In the classroom, I’ve learned that I struggle with classroom control and discipline. This year, I’ve had a particularly challenging time getting through to the fifth graders. On the whole, they are eager and enthusiastic students. As with any class though, there are a select few who have disinterested attitudes. Getting them to participate, or even listen quietly for that matter, can be an overwhelming task.

As a generally kind-hearted and relaxed person, I find it difficult to dole out punishments, and when I do, it’s hardly convincing. Granted, I’m not expected to discipline at my school. However, I want to be able to help my classroom teachers manage their class when they need it. There are a few talented disciplinarians at my school. I’ve been observing their interactions with the students in hopes of improving in this aspect. Although, I think my reputation among the students as a “funny” assistant will ultimately prevent me from earning their obedience when it comes to discipline.

Outside of the classroom, I’ve learned to let go of my insecurities when it comes to speaking Spanish. I think in the past I’ve missed out on having a lot of great conversations and meeting a lot of cool people because I feared my Spanish wasn’t good enough. I was too fastidious when it came to speaking correctly that I just avoided speaking Spanish altogether. Now, I seek out situations where I can speak Spanish, knowing that what I’m saying is probably imperfect, but understood nevertheless. Consequently, my command of the language has improved and my vocabulary increased. I guess I learned to accept, even appreciate, the failings because those moments are what foster learning.”

What I Learned From This Interview Teaching Abroad at a Bilingual School in Madrid, Spain

Having had a difficult relationship with my school in my auxiliar days, I was jealous when Alex told me about his intercambios and freedom to utilize his creative talents in the classroom. Teaching in a bilingual school in Madrid definitely has so many positives! He has a talent for connecting with everyone he meets that shines at his school too. Combined with his easy adaptiveness to the ever-bouncing expectations of the auxiliar, Alex and his school mutually thrive from the other’s presence. It wouldn’t surprise me if his students were are as thrilled to spend time with him as my friends and I are.

Thanks for sharing, Alex! We at Dreams Abroad are looking forward to your final update at the end of the school year.

 

Teaching ESOL, Spanish, and Online Classes in the United States with Caroline Hazelton

Caroline Hazelton is from Jacksonville, Florida. When she isn’t teaching ESOL, lecturing part-time at a university located in South Florida or teaching online classes, Caroline is a wife and mom to two beautiful daughters.

She is one of the best presenters I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Caroline and I met at Florida State University’s College of Education where oftentimes we were asked to engage and interact in meaningful dialogue with our classmates. We studied education, so we pretty much had presentations every other week, and Caroline always had stellar presentations. I remember her specifically as being one of the best presenters in our class. She has a passion not only for Pedagogy and Foreign and Second-Language Curriculum, but for life. Caroline’s enthusiasm is contagious. She is a fourth-generation teacher and once up in front of a classroom, she draws you in with her love of language.

Meet Caroline, the language enthusiast:

What do you like most about teaching international students?

“When you teach international students, you see brilliant thinkers from other parts of the world who possess different talents, perspectives, and attitudes. They also arrive with their own academic strengths and passions from their desired degree programs. Every university student is already a thinker and a learner, or else they wouldn’t be there. And what’s more they can see things very differently from Americans which can be challenging but stimulating. For example, last year at another school, a Chinese student told me that World War II was tragic but helpful. As an American and as a granddaughter of veterans, I could not get my head around the concept of  WWII being “helpful.” But from his perspective, China had benefited from the territory inherited from the war.

Teaching ESOL – teaching languages and cultures to people is my passion. There is something about watching a student  embrace a language. I subscribe to the linguist Noam Chomsky’s theory of  “universal grammar” which asserts that humans have an innate ability to learn languages. It is fascinating to watch someone partake in a process that is more often reserved for small children.

teaching foreign language to US students

It is also amazing to watch a new identity form. Humans tend to isolate themselves into groups that look the same, act the same, and share the same culture. Yet when we learn a new language, we adopt its culture. We cannot simply stay in our own culture with people just like ourselves because we now have the ability to communicate with those who are different from us. I do not want to see people hiding away with clones of themselves. I want to see them mingling with others, celebrating their cultural and linguistic identities. As you learn more about another language, you can relate to another culture and begin to develop multiple “identities.” When we do, we can relate to more people. This makes the world a little smaller and more unified.”

What did you like most about teaching a foreign language to US students?

“Teaching Spanish to non-speakers with mostly American backgrounds meant that these students were discovering a world that had been hidden within their own. Now that they were able to begin understanding, they could now be a part of it. I saw this when I taught university students all the way down to my elementary school students. Spanish is everywhere in the United States. I would have students who could communicate with friends, family, co-workers, or clients and would come to class and tell me about it. Students would find that they could now listen to more music. This was because we would listen to and translate music in Spanish in class. Spanish is simply everywhere in the United States.

Teaching ESOL in the United States

I see myself in my students. As I was learning, I didn’t abandon my first language when I learned another, but in fact, gained a new identity. Of course, my second-language identity is a whole different component than my first. But, teaching Spanish in the United States has helped my students find their own “second identities.” I can help them connect to another world within their own.”

What did you find was the most challenging part of teaching both groups of students?

“It’s important to realize that anytime you are speaking a second language, no matter how much you know of it, you will still struggle to express yourself. Your mind might blank on a word. You might have complex thoughts, but all of your cerebral energy is going to simply put the words out there. Some students are able to be bold and learn despite this insecurity, but this really upsets some. Teachers can ease this anxiety by creating a warm, welcoming classroom environment so students feel comfortable taking risks. I’m happy to say that on my university course evaluations this was something students mentioned. The relaxed environment I strived to create made them feel okay with failing.

student studying in library books

In teaching ESOL, I find it’s very important to show students what you do as a teacher when you stumble on a word or have some other kind of miscommunication. Even in our first language, there are already enough miscommunications. These can range from different intended meanings, different references, body language, etc. which we have to resolve in daily life. Being open about our own mistakes encourages students. In other words, showing students that failure is okay is both a challenge and extremely important.”

What did both sets of students have in common? What was the difference?

“Both groups are trying to communicate in their second language and learn it better. The difference is that with international students, there is more at stake in learning English. In the United States, many students are studying Spanish as a foreign language for a required credit. Most students learning Spanish just need to pass a foreign-language requirement and continue with their studies. For international students in intensive English programs, they usually cannot pursue their degree studies, face visa issues, etc. if they do not pass their English courses. They are actually trying to live in a culture where the language and culture they are learning is dominant. This is actually helpful when teaching ESOL. My Spanish learners were not in that situation. In other words, language-learning issues remain the same, but the motivation levels and stake factors do not.”

students studying in front of computer

Where are you currently working? What are the challenges that your international students encounter?

“Recently, I got hired as an adjunct lecturer on an intensive English program at a reputable university. I am also teaching ESOL – English as a foreign language – online with a well-known language and travel company. Since my experience here is limited, I will reflect on my experiences with international students as a whole.

International students struggle with differences in classroom etiquette. For example, in Chinese culture, students are expected to recite while American students are expected to critique. An American student abroad might come across as loud, opinionated, or arrogant in cultures similar to the Chinese. Likewise, certain cultures are more tolerant of issues such as plagiarism. In the US, plagiarism is grounds for expulsion from the university. It’s important to consider subtle misunderstandings due to language and culture when teaching ESOL. Each language carries certain “attitudes” with it derived from its surrounding culture. Chinese- and Korean-speaking students carry a need for “respectful language” that doesn’t necessarily exist in English. This is different when compared to Brazilian and Portuguese students, who might carry more of a “friendly” attitude. Students aren’t even aware of these minor differences until they begin their second language/culture-immersion experience.”

What challenges do you have working with international students?

“First, there are always misunderstandings due to differences in language, especially when teaching ESOL. To be honest, there are times I cannot understand what a student is trying to communicate due to accent or vocabulary. While I have to be kind, I do have to let the student know I cannot understand them. This is the only way they will be able to improve their language skills. Usually, it is just a grammatical or syntax issue, or possibly a pronunciation error that we can fix together. When handled correctly, you can help students save face for when they are communicating with someone not as “linguistically patient” as their teacher.

Secondly, and I hate to mention this, but any time you are teaching, especially teaching ESOL, you have to make sure to be on the lookout for how your gender plays a role. This is especially true of cultures where gender and sexuality vary from that of your own where you know “what to do/not to do.” I have had students who seemed to develop crushes on me at different schools. You are their teacher, you are their hero, and sometimes you are of a different culture. This can be attractive to some. As a result, I have to watch how I dress. I also have to know who/when/how I am interacting with my students, and when to let my bosses know if necessary. This is true of any school though, and not just of international students. It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the world we live in.”

caroline hazelton teaching ESOL miami

 

What advice would you give to someone who works with people from other cultures?

“Be patient and get out of your comfort zone!”

quote where the magic happens

What is one example of something you have done differently or some way you have changed as a result of your experiences?

“As a result of my experiences, I try to process headlines from an international perspective. Having regularly communicated with other cultures, it has shown me that one country’s interpretation of events may not be how another country sees it. I try to read Al Jazeera English in addition to The Washington Post and The Atlantic. I will watch Despierta America on Univision in the mornings to see what’s on the mind of Hispanics before watching CBS in the evenings. Once I meet people from the countries I see on the news, I chat with them about what I see. It helps me determine if the reporting I see is my country’s perspective or if there’s some truth to it.”

Caroline is unique because she has taught pretty much every type of learner in each age group. Because she is a self-taught second-language learner, she brings a set of skills to the classroom other than the basics. Her ability to connect culture and fear caused by misunderstandings is what motivates her each and every day when teaching ESOL. We look forward to hearing more from her about her new teaching position in the upcoming months.

Going Back to San Lorenzo to Teach

I didn’t think the time would come where I would be writing a wrap-up on Cate’s Madrid adventure. Or, am I? When I said my goodbyes to Cate in June (a goodbye I won’t forget), I knew our time to laugh together would come again soon. What I didn’t expect was that it would be in Florida! Yes, that’s right — Florida! The very place that ignited our first conversation over a year ago and started our friendship. It was great to catch up and see each other outside of Madrid. Read along and see what she has planned next!

Your main goal in coming to Madrid was to learn Spanish. How did you do?

My primary goal in coming to Spain was to learn enough Spanish to be able to have a basic conversation. If I really focus on the concept of “basic,” I think I achieved that. Barely. I certainly added a huge amount of vocabulary and some grammar. However, with less than half of my time there left, I had only just started to try to string together actual sentences. As it is for so many struggling second-language learners, getting out of my own head is my biggest obstacle.”

You also spoke about traveling. Did you get to see many countries while living abroad?

I was much more successful with my goal of traveling! I’m pretty proud of this list, so here it is… I went to: London, Paris, Copenhagen, Gibraltar, all through Ireland, Amsterdam, spent an hour in Tangier (crazy story), and saw a lot of Spain by car and train. Being able to see so much of Europe in such a short time was absolutely mind-blowing.”

In your previous interview, you mentioned that you were speaking and teaching English most of the time. What can you tell us about learning Spanish through immersion?

teaching students in SpainThe process of learning Spanish, or attempting to, was certainly not what I had expected. To be completely (and embarrassingly) honest, I thought that merely by living in Spain for 10 months, the language  somehow would seep into my brain and I’d speak it without even realizing how it happened! Wrong.

First of all, I found the four-week immersion class practically useless, for me anyway. It was too much all at once and I wasn’t able to digest virtually any of it. What progress I did make came from private, weekly lessons and the homework I received. And when everything was said and done, the ONLY thing that caused any of it to “stick” in my brain was actually using it (with Spanish friends). Some people received the gift to easily pick up new languages… I’m not one of those people, but I keep plugging away.”

What was your most memorable moment in class? Do you miss your students?

“There are a few students that I miss and one that I have kept in touch with. For the most part, however, I didn’t form any real bonds with most of the kids. Schools strictly forbade auxiliars from speaking Spanish with students. The language barrier at my school felt virtually impenetrable. I’m sorry to report that the most memorable occasions all felt extraordinarily negative. I saw some extremely challenging students who created some unforgettable scenes. It seemed unfortunate for everyone involved.”

What do you miss most about San Lorenzo de El Escorial?

“I miss everything about San Lorenzo except for the ubiquitous dog poop everywhere. I miss being able to walk to everything. Undoubtedly, I miss the vistas of the mountains and the monastery, the cheap whiskey and wine, and the antiquity of it all. It’s certainly a magical little town.”

What have you been doing this summer?

“This summer… what have I been doing? It was so disorienting to be back that it took me several weeks to really feel ‘normal’ and completely unpack (shame). I went up to spend a few days with my sister in Cape Cod. I’ve helped one daughter and her husband a bit around their house. I helped the other one move to Boston for a new job. Lately, I’ve been driving for Uber on the weekends.”

I think we all want to know… Will you return to San Lorenzo for Round 2?

It looks as if I am going back, for a few reasons. First of all, I have a job there and that’s more than I can say for here. Secondly, I’ll have medical insurance there and that’s a huge deal for an old broad like me. Then there’s the Spanish that I still want to learn and the lifestyle of Spain that I enjoy so much. I’m just not done “adventuring” yet.”

Going back to San Lorenzo to Teach

while living abroad in spain

And, here we go! Of the people I interviewed, Cate was certainly the one I thought would have a different ending. When I asked her for her quote for her second interview, she provided this one, “I stopped telling myself that I’m lost. I’m not and am on a road with no destination, I’m just driving with hope that I’ll find a place that I like and I’ll stay there. I’m not lost, I’m on my way.” – Ahunnaya

After one year of knowing Cate and having the pleasure to call her my friend, I can say without a doubt that she has found her way and is headed back to her “place,” San Lorenzo, to continue her Dreams Abroad.

by Leesa Truesdell